Kelly latest to test Dakar waters

Ready to go: Kelly will make his debut at the Dakar Rally
Ready to go: Kelly will make his debut at the Dakar Rally

A 15-year long biking career will reach its ultimate peak as John Kelly lines up for his Dakar Rally debut early next year. Kelly will be in Saudi Arabia for the 2022 Dakar Rally that will take place from January 2-14, 2022.

The 31-year-old will be the fourth Motswana rider, after Vincent Crosbie, Ross Branch and James Alexander, who made his debut this year. Kelly went on the saddle for the first time as a seven-year-old but made his competitive debut as a 16-year-old at the 1,000km Toyota Desert Race (TDR) or ‘Mantshwabisi’ as it is popularly called.

In his early days in competitive racing, Kelly divided his time between the bike and school commitments. It was only in 2017 that he won his title in the Botswana Motor Sport (BMS) national championship before finishing sixth at the Roof of Africa in Lesotho. A year later, he won the BMS division of the TDR whilst he was third at the Kalahari Rally in 2019. It was at the 2019 Kalahari Rally where Kelly tasted rally racing and he said he is ready to take it a gear higher having five TDR races under his belt.

He said the podium finish at the Mahikeng-held rally remains his biggest and thus pushed him to go for the ultimate challenge; the Dakar Rally. “It has always been a dream for me to go to the Dakar but it has never been a realistic dream, I suppose. It only got realistic in 2019 when I did the Kalahari Rally and it was a very good introduction to the rally race and that side of motorsport.” “I did quite well at the Kalahari Rally and felt that I have been training all my life to do Dakar and it is obviously a tough event and I felt that I needed to challenge myself and I feel that the Dakar is the ultimate challenge. It is certainly the most challenging, physically and mentally demanding. It's probably one of the hardest a person can do. I would need to go there and finish the race and that would be the biggest achievement,” Kelly said.

The Gaborone Motor Club (GMC) captain will be in the Malle Moto class. "It is an unsupported class with no team or mechanics, where we have to maintain the bikes on our own," he said.

The competitors will be assisted with moving their equipment by organisers and everything will solely depend on them. The Malle Moto riders can assist each other and it is widely regarded to be the toughest category in the event. “I do not have a team. I will have to service my bike every night. So basically that means I would not have a team and that cuts down the costs. My budget stands at around P750,000 for the Dakar Rally. If you compare it to having a team with the mechanics it will go to between P1.5 million and P1.8 million.

I think that Malle Moto is a good way to experience Dakar. I have had chats with Crosbie, Ross and James. They have a lot of insight into the rally and provide really good advice whether it’s the bike or navigation side of the rally.

Even the kit, because it gets really cold in Saudi Arabia, so I need to know where to buy what and where. Because we need to have things like heated gloves and all the small things that you need to know. It is a good thing that they are just a phone call away.” Kelly said he has been doing a lot of gym work since January when he decided to go for the Dakar. He will over the weekend start a seven-day long 2021 Kalahari Rally in Mahikeng as he seeks a bit of seat time. The biker is however battling to acquire an insurance package to enable him to race at the Dakar with a BMS license. “We would love to race with a BMS license; it is the racing insurance that is required by Dakar organisers.

The insurance should cover certain things that the Dakar requires but we cannot get it here in Botswana, so am I trying to get an insurance premium package that will include all that is required. I will love to race with a BMS license and I hope the BMS committee or any other insurance will provide that for me,” he said.

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